If you can believe it, the New Orleans Pelicans franchise has had two top-five players in the NBA slip through their fingers over the last eight years. First, when they were still the Hornets, they had Chris Paul, who was largely considered the league’s best point guard and was looked upon by many as one of the best players in the game.
They ultimately traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers (after a vetoed trade to the Los Angeles Lakers) just ahead of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign because Paul couldn’t get out of there fast enough (he had been drafted by the franchise in 2004).
Then, this past summer, the Pelicans had a disgruntled Anthony Davis, probably the league’s best big man, whom they dealt to the Lakers.
Two superstars, two trades.
So, just how did that happen?
Well, for starters, New Orleans is not exactly a free-agent hot spot, so convincing players to join the club even with Paul or Davis on the roster was not an easy task (clearly).
Yes, the Hornets had David West and Tyson Chandler playing alongside of Paul in 2008, and the team won 56 games as a result, but they were beaten by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, and the overall talent disparity was evident.
During Davis’ time in the Bayou? The Pelicans made just two playoff appearances, winning one playoff series. They were able to nab guys like Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo to team with Davis, but it simply wasn’t enough in a Western Conference ruled by the Golden State Warriors (who bounced the Pels from the playoffs in 2015 and 2018).
New Orleans also did not draft particularly well during the tenures of both Chris Paul and Anthony Davis, and while it made some decent trades (like Holiday), it was never able to put itself over the top.
Again, that is not necessarily the franchise’s fault, because the area in which they play is not attractive to star players, particularly from a market perspective, but sometimes, you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and the Pels organization did a rather poor job of that.
The Pelicans tried a bunch of things. Eric Gordon. Ryan Anderson. Omer Asik.
None of it worked.
Some of those were flat out bad deals (Asik). Some of those were good additions but were just not enough (Gordon and Anderson).
How much blame do Chris Paul and Anthony Davis deserve? Some, because they were supposed to be top-flight players, and particularly in the case of Davis, it’s a bit damning that he only made the playoffs twice in spite of having somewhat respectable rosters (sometimes), but the amount of responsibility that can be placed on their shoulders is minimal, at most.
Realistically, a perfect storm of events prevented New Orleans from ever truly capitalizing on either player’s talents, and while the front office absolutely merits harsh criticism for the way it handled things both times, it’s still not entirely management’s fault.
Just look at the Milwaukee Bucks right now. They currently have a top-five (at worst) player in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but good luck getting any star players to sign in Milwaukee.
Sometimes, the market dictates your success, and the Hornets/Pelicans found that out the hard way. Twice.
Let’s hope they have better luck in the Zion Williamson era.